CountryRoamer (DIY Hard-Side Truck Camper) Build Thread

Hi y'all! I'm in the exploratory phase of building a DIY EarthRoamer/Tiger camper.

After a 3-week trip up-and-down the East Coast of the US in a travel trailer, my family and I want something that's easier to drive, easy to setup/teardown, and lets us explore random stuff along our drive without fear of getting stuck in a parking lot (I'm looking at you, Whole Foods!). We're not planning on doing any heavy offroading: mostly just campgrounds, boondocking, and moochdocking.

Build details so far...
  • Built on a gasser F-550 or Ram 5500 platform with a 12' steel flatbed (before anyone brings it up, I'm not worried about torsional flex for our type of use)
  • 8' x 12' floor/box, with a king-sized cabover sleeping area
  • Marine-ply and rigid foam construction, with epoxy/paint exterior
  • Needs sleeping for 4 plus a small dog
  • Shower, toilet, heat/AC, stove and fridge required

Some specific goals based on what we learned from our travel trailer include...
  • Enough water and solar to run off-grid for a day or three if needed.
  • Four-season capability (we want to take it to the mountains for snowboarding in the winter).
  • We want lots of counter space. Cooking for 4 people with a small counter sucks.
  • A hallway that can accommodate 2 people side-by-side. Having to literally climb over someone to get from one end to the other is a pressure cooker on longer trips. We need more hall space than our travel trailer allows.
  • Beds that don't need to be "made" every day. Folding down or out beds with sheets is ok, but having to remove/put on sheets won't work for us.
  • A private place to get changed
  • Lots of big windows to extend the feeling of being outside when the weather sucks
  • A dinette than can seat all 4 of us comfortably
  • STORAGE!

I've attached the current working floor plan. Some specifics worth noting...
  • The dinette will double as a couch, with a backrest along the rear wall
  • A tri-fold twin-sized foam mattress will fold out from one of the dinette benches for the bottom bunk. A fold-up/drop-down murphy bunk will fold down from the wall for the top bunk.
  • I plan to use a portable induction range for more counter space and the possibility of easy outdoor cooking.
  • The open space is 4 feet wide, enough for my wife and I to stand side-by-side or walk past each other without the other needing to move out of the way.
  • The shower and toilet are accessed through a hallway which doubles as a changing room. The door into it will swing 180 degrees. It can close off the toilet room entirely, or lock inline with the walls to create a changing space.
  • Access to the cabover ladder is also through that door

Some to-be-worked-out open questions I'm still pondering (suggestions welcome)...
  1. Should I use a roof-mount AC, or a simple window-AC built into the wall? Should I get a traditional RV AC, or a fancy dometic 12v?
  2. How much solar and battery power do I need?
  3. How much water is "enough"? What's the correct fresh water:gray water ratio? (We'll be using a cassette or composting toilet, I think.)
  4. Where do I put the water tanks, in particular, the gray tank relative to the shower and sink for proper draining?
  5. How do I setup the system for winter? Do I need heat pads on the tanks, or is keeping them in the living space with heat enough?
  6. Can I wire a gas/petrol heater (like a diesel heater, but with gas) into our tank with a removable flatbed camper? Should I?
  7. With enough battery and solar, should I consider electric heat instead to further reduce my gas consumption?
  8. I want cabinets with shelves and drawers, not just big empty caverns for storage. What's the cheapest way to do that, besides building my own? IKEA? How do you add locking latches?
  9. We would love a passthrough to the cab. Is that possible with a flatbed camper, or does it need to be an integrated build for that?
  10. Casette toilet or composting?
  11. Is there any concern of leaking with a window over the cabover bed (a stargazing window)?
  12. Could I fit a small RV dishwasher in there?
  13. What's the best way to attach racks for bikes and snowboards? Roof mounted? Hitch rack off the back? Integrated racks on the back of the shell?
  14. Similarly, what's the best way to store a full-sized spare? I won't have huge offroad tires, so I don't think I need an EarthRoamer style winch system.
  15. What should I call it? We love pirates in our family, so I'm planning to fly a jolly roger off the thing when at camp (I even toyed with a shiplap exterior for a more nautical look). I'd love some sort of icon or logo or name that's adventure & pirate inspired.
 

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1000arms

Well-known member
Overall vehicle height? Camper basement?

How tall are you willing to make your camper? Do you want a "basement" for water/gray tanks, batteries, storage, ...? A basement can free up space inside the living compartment at the expense of a taller camper height, but, it might be worth it.

Consider figuring out how tall a cabover you want and matching the camper body roof to the cabover roof. This might leave you room for a basement, without increasing your camper height. ... And, if so, the basement will make it easier to get in to the cabover.

How much headroom do you want in the cabover? Top of the mattress to the ceiling? Keep in mind that you might want to make sure you can easily sit up in bed, especially, as you mentioned (being inside), "when the weather sucks".

The height of a 2022 F-550 CC 4x4 84" CA chassis cab is about 7'.

The top of the camper cabover is going to be at (about) 7',
plus some inches of clearance above the roof,
plus the thickness of the insulated frame/floor of the cabover,
plus any airspace under the mattress,
plus the height of the mattress,
plus the height from the top of the mattress to the ceiling,
plus the thickness of the insulated camper frame/roof.

Make sure to keep the overall height camper below 13'6"!

Yes, it sure adds up! :)
 

1000arms

Well-known member
Most campers are poorly insulated, and water/grey/black tanks can easily freeze in snowboarding weather.

You have the opportunity to insulate well and keep your water tank(s) and gray tank inside the camper.
 
How tall are you willing to make your camper?
Ideally we'd keep it around 11', but my target is 12' or less.

This document is admittedly for the 2012 F-series lineup, but has the F-550 at 6.75'. I'd like 3' to 3.5' of height from the mattress up in the cabover. Doing some quick math: 3" gap from the cab to the cabover, plus 4" for the shell itself (top and bottom layers), plus 5" for a foam mattress with a Froli system puts the cabover at about 4' above the cab, or just about 11' to 11.5'.

Doing some more math, if the flatbed sits 5" to 6" above the tires (unloaded height 2.75') that should give me an internal height of around 8'.

My travel trailer is 6.5' tall inside, and you can tell. I'd like to get to at least 7', ideally closer to 7.5' if possible. That does leave some room for a basement, but the layout I shared actually has at least 15' linear more cabinet space than our current trailer, so I think I'd be ok to eat up some of it with water and batteries if needed. I'm also down to do a hybrid approach with maybe batteries in a basement and water under a cabinet (or vice-versa).


Most campers are poorly insulated, and water/grey/black tanks can easily freeze in snowboarding weather.

You have the opportunity to insulate well and keep your water tank(s) and gray tank inside the camper.
That's the plan! I know keeping them inside the insulated portion of the build is step 1. I've also seen some builds use an electric heating pad to supplement. I'm most concerned with gravity and water flow for the gray tank, TBH.
 

1000arms

Well-known member
Ideally we'd keep it around 11', but my target is 12' or less.

This document is admittedly for the 2012 F-series lineup, but has the F-550 at 6.75'. I'd like 3' to 3.5' of height from the mattress up in the cabover. Doing some quick math: 3" gap from the cab to the cabover, plus 4" for the shell itself (top and bottom layers), plus 5" for a foam mattress with a Froli system puts the cabover at about 4' above the cab, or just about 11' to 11.5'.

Doing some more math, if the flatbed sits 5" to 6" above the tires (unloaded height 2.75') that should give me an internal height of around 8'.

My travel trailer is 6.5' tall inside, and you can tell. I'd like to get to at least 7', ideally closer to 7.5' if possible. That does leave some room for a basement, but the layout I shared actually has at least 15' linear more cabinet space than our current trailer, so I think I'd be ok to eat up some of it with water and batteries if needed. I'm also down to do a hybrid approach with maybe batteries in a basement and water under a cabinet (or vice-versa).




That's the plan! I know keeping them inside the insulated portion of the build is step 1. I've also seen some builds use an electric heating pad to supplement. I'm most concerned with gravity and water flow for the gray tank, TBH.
It is possible you will need a pump to move the water from the shower pan to the gray tank, especially if your shower pan and gray tank are sitting on the same floor. :cool:
 

1000arms

Well-known member
Looks like a gasser probably is a better choice right now. Yikes! https://markets.businessinsider.com...crisis-gas-station-rationing-inflation-2022-5
You may already be aware, but the Ford "Godzilla" 7.3L gas engine has pretty good low-end torque.

"Designed for use in the Super Duty F-250 and F-350 trucks and other applications, the 7.3-liter engine pounds the ground with over 400 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 to 5,500 rpm, with the 475 lb-ft peak. Horsepower tops out at 430 at 5,500 rpm. With the right mods its personality could get a lot more powerful." is from:


"Godzilla, as it’s being called, was developed as an option for F-250-and-up Super Duty models as a severe-duty engine that’s powerful, durable, and affordable to build and maintain. Interestingly enough, the very features that make it a strong truck engine get us hot rodders fired up, too. We’ve already seen one make over 700 horsepower naturally aspirated and 1,450 horsepower with a supercharger!"

"The 445 cubic inch "Godzilla" is fairly compact for a big-cube block, with dimensions that are just a little bit bigger than a 351W small-block."

The above quotes are from:

 

1000arms

Well-known member
You might want to look at @IdaSHO 's AC thread:

 

1000arms

Well-known member
I suggest you plan controlled ventilation for your camper to keep moving fresh air in (and moving stale air out). Sealed up for driving, but capable of supplying fresh air when parked despite hammering rain.
 

1000arms

Well-known member
People build pass-throughs pickup between truck cabs and pickup truck caps. How useful this would be to you probably depends on if you, or your wife, or your kids, or your dog can fit through the opening.

You might consider replacing the chassis cab rear window with a piece of custom cut aluminum with a welded-on lip for an accordion-boot, but think about how to secure and seal this opening if you remove your camper from the flatbed.
 

1000arms

Well-known member
I don't recommend tapping in to the fuel system on a very modern vehicle. Keep your vehicle as reliable as you can. If your camper heater fails while winter-camping, at least you could all get in the truck cab and drive away, with the truck heat cranked. :)
 

1000arms

Well-known member
I suggest you look in to battery-to-battery chargers to charge camper "house" batteries from a heavy duty alternator while driving.

Also, LiFePO4 batteries and the temperatures to charge (and use) them.
 
You may already be aware, but the Ford "Godzilla" 7.3L gas engine has pretty good low-end torque.

Indeed! My attraction to diesel was less about low-end torque and more for the increased MPG rating and ability to potentially tie into it for a heater, etc.

At $10k more, plus dramatically higher gas prices, plus DEF and potential maintenance issues (from what I read), a gasser seems like a better choice ATM, though.
 
I suggest you plan controlled ventilation for your camper to keep moving fresh air in (and moving stale air out). Sealed up for driving, but capable of supplying fresh air when parked despite hammering rain.
Absolutely! I'm thinking we need at least two (one for the main floor and another for the cabover). We will still need AC, though, since we sometimes camp in hot humid climates (ex. Florida).
 
People build pass-throughs pickup between truck cabs and pickup truck caps. How useful this would be to you probably depends on if you, or your wife, or your kids, or your dog can fit through the opening.

You might consider replacing the chassis cab rear window with a piece of custom cut aluminum with a welded-on lip for an accordion-boot, but think about how to secure and seal this opening if you remove your camper from the flatbed.

We're all relatively slight people. I've seen trucks that have a power rear window that slides down, but I don't think that's an option on an F-550, which means I'm likely looking at an aftermarket thing.

As you noted, I'd like it to still be drivable as a normal truck when the camper is off.
 
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